Offering Our Extravagant Love to Jesus

Our Extravagant Love for JesusA sermon preached for the 5th Sunday in Lent on John 12:1-8 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas. We also dedicated 65 quilts, 65 personal care kits, and 62 baby care kits for Lutheran World Relief made by the women's group and ended the service with a blessing of the new Great Achievers Preschool in our education wing.

My husband’s best friend, Phil, is also a pastor. Several years ago, Phil’s mom was dying, and she was receiving hospice care at home. Phil and his mom had a very challenging relationship—there’s no need to go into detail, but she had problems and just was not the best mom. She could not show up for Phil in the way that most moms could and would.

It was a Friday afternoon and Phil left his work at church to drive home to see how she was doing, arriving about 4:30 in the afternoon. The hospice nurse left at 5 and wouldn’t be back until morning. As happens when one is in the dying process, Phil’s mom soiled herself and the bed. Phil called hospice and asked if they could come back and help him, but they said that unless his mom needed medication, they could not return until the next day. His brother was working; his dad had died. Phil was on his own.

Phil returned to his Mom’s bedside and said, “Well, Mom, it’s just you and me. I guess you wiped my behind 100 times before, and now it’s my turn to wipe yours.” They looked each other in the eye and burst out laughing. And then he cleaned her up.

She died two days later. Phil shared that it was such a healing moment—it stripped everything else away and brought them down to their bare humanity, to forgiveness, and the chance to die receiving deep love.

Mary offers this kind of deep love to Jesus before he faces his own death. Mary pours expensive spikenard on Jesus’s feet and wipes them with her hair—a sign of anointing. Such anointing is an act done only for the coronation of a king, or for someone being prepared for burial.

Jesus of course, is both. He is the king of the Jews, through whom he has come to save all nations, the true Messiah who will begin his reign, not with a display of mighty power to overthrow the Roman oppressor, but rather, by taking on the worst of human violence, and entering death to show us that not even the most evil aspects of our brokenness can separate us from God, nor stop God from loving us.

But before Jesus can endure that kind of deep suffering, before he can enter Jerusalem and be that kind of king who dies to bring life, he needs to be deeply loved. Mary offered him a healing moment of extravagant love that stripped everything else away, and recognized Jesus’s bare humanity in what he had to endure, offering him the chance not just to love others, but to die receiving deep love.

Can you imagine that as he hung dying on the cross, the musky smell of the rich spikenard oil still wafting up into his nostrils, a physical message of deep love in the midst of devastating suffering; a visceral reminder that someone understood, that one disciple gave herself extravagantly to him, that his humanity was embraced, that he was not alone?

That is Mary’s gift to Jesus and to us. Of course, we are on the receiving end of God’s love in Jesus—always, every day, every breath, every flower, each new sunrise, every meal, every kind word, each person who loves us, every morsel of Communion, every loyal pet, each choir anthem and transcendent piece of music, every mistake forgiven—God in Jesus Christ is dying to shower us with love. But Mary shows us that Jesus also needs us and wants us to extravagantly love him back, giving him our best, our all, despite what others might think.

Mary ignores Judas, and Jesus receives her love, helping him prepare for his suffering and death in the days ahead, and sustaining him when he most needs it. Her love enables him to love his disciples even knowing they would betray, deny, and abandon him. Just as she wiped his feet, a few days later, Jesus washed and wiped the disciple’s feet in a similar act of extravagant love, asking them to love others as he has loved them, as Mary has loved him.

Have you ever looked at Mary’s action and wondered what Jesus needs from you? What kind of extravagant love? What service? What devotion does he need from you to do the kingdom work ahead? Mary shows us that your love for Jesus matters, your devotion, your willingness to give and serve, your willingness to seek out and offer what is needed matters to Christ the King—who chooses to work through relationships, through human beings, through Mary, through Phil, through you.

Jesus needed Phil’s extravagant love so his mom could experience forgiveness before she died—not because she deserved it, because none of us do. Phil has received God’s love, and he loved Jesus enough to offer extravagant love to his mom in that moment of uncomfortable need. And the clean, musky smell of forgiveness could waft up into her nostrils in death.

The women of this church stitched, purchased, sewed, and created all these personal care kits, and baby kits, and quilts because Jesus already loves you, and these are signs of your extravagant devotion, service, and love for Jesus in return. Jesus will use them to bless people you will never meet—people in refugee camps and recovering from natural disasters here and around the world. Stripped of everything, our common humanity is recognized in the need for basic supplies. A family will receive a homemade quilt, a hand-stitched baby onesie or crocheted sweater and they will know—they will know that someone loves Jesus extravagantly enough to anoint them with the rich, musky smell of fresh blessings during suffering.

Today we are going to bless Great Achievers Preschool, another way for us to extend the extravagant love of God, by building relationships with the families in our community, anointing children with extravagant love, teaching and loving children who are not our own. And oh, the wiping that needs to be done! Smelly bottoms and runny noses, dirty hands and sticky mouths, sweaty foreheads and teary cheeks, all the while trying to keep up with fast feet, quick minds, and pure hearts. Children help strip us bare—reminding us what is essential in our common humanity. It takes deep love to open a preschool; it takes extravagant patience to teach toddlers; it takes expansive hearts to welcome families with noisy, little ones, but I know you love Jesus extravagantly enough to scoop them up with your whole heart and embrace them with the musky smell of your devotion to the kingdom work at hand.

And the poor. What are we going to do about the poor? Some think this passage gets us off the hook—they will always be here, so apathy and inaction in the face of poverty is okay. But I know you don’t really think that is what Jesus meant! Such bad interpretation sounds just like Judas—only to serve our own ends. The indicative verb for “you will always have” is the same verb form as an imperative. So instead of a description of the state of being (that the poor are always with us), Jesus is more likely to be giving a command, as in, "Keep the poor among you always." Jesus is saying, “I am going away—I am not going to be here much longer, so continue my mission: keep the poor among you always and tend to their needs.”

So, what does Jesus need from you? What extravagant love? What service? What devotion does he need from you to do the kingdom work ahead? Jesus says, “Love me abundantly by taking care of the poor, the children, and those in need. Bring them justice, and make their life better; love them as I have loved you. Help the undeserving. Forgive the unforgiveable. Give me your best, your all, your everything, so that those who suffer might experience the musky, rich fragrance of the God who comes to them through a people who love their Lord with extravagant devotion.”

 Image: I Cried for You by Nik Helbig

 

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God's Fierce and Tender Love Calls Us to Fierce and Tender Ministry

Gods Fierce and Tender Love Calls Us to Fierce and Tender MinistryA sermon preached for the Second Sunday in Lent on Luke 13:31-35 on March 17, 2019 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

Paula D’Arcy is a Christian author and inspirational speaker. At age twety-seven, she was pregnant with her second daughter when a drunk driver struck and killed her husband and her first daughter who was two years old. She tells the story of being in the hospital 6 months after this terrible tragedy, to give birth, and praying to God to please give her a natural birth, so she could experience life after so much death.

Although she wanted to trust God as the foundation of her life, in that moment, she wanted God to prove himself by granting this one desire. In her grief, she had struggled in her relationship with God and wanted to feel loved and less alone. After several hours of labor, it looked like her desire for a natural birth was not going to happen, and she was minutes from having a C-section. She prayed, “What do you want from me, God? You already have everything-you have my husband, you have my daughter—what more do you want?”

Paula heard in her own heart God’s response. God said to her, I want you to want me more than you want anything else. I want to transform your pain. I want you to give your whole self to me. Paula looked down at her hands and realized that she had been holding on to life as she wanted it, and the grip of her desires had closed her off from God doing what she most needed, which was to transform her pain into new life.

She released her hands and opened her whole self to God; a moment that became a turning point in her spiritual journey. Both the fierce and the tender love of God enveloped all of her—even her angry, bargaining, scorekeeping, fearful, distraught, birth-giving, complex, grieving self. God’s fierce and tender love embraced all of her.

In our Gospel reading, we hear Jesus embody both the fierce and the tender love of God. The pharisees tell him that Herod has threatened his life and Jesus responds with a fierceness that might have sounded as startling to them as it does to us. “you tell that fox, Herod, that I’m going to finish what I came to do—I am healing and casting out demons and no matter who you are, what you say, or what you do, I am going to complete my work. I am going to be on my way, but it’s not because of you or your idle threats, it’s because my purpose will take me to Jerusalem.” Jesus expresses a clarity of purpose and mission, and no obstacle—not even death threats, nor death itself—is going to deter him.

Yet in the next sentence, we hear one of the most tender, loving and maternal passages in all of Scripture, expressing Jesus’s weeping lament of broken-hearted love over those who will not turn toward him in trust to hide and rest under God’s protection and love. Jesus’s love is so tender, so healing, so mothering, and so all-encompassing—an image of gathering and protecting, covering and hovering, calling and making sure no one is missing. It conveys warmth and safety, home and comfort, peace and rest, homecooked food and a warm fire, fluffy blankets and a hug that lasts as long as you hang on. It’s gentle and welcoming and expects nothing except that you show up and snuggle under grace.

Isn’t that why God sent Jesus in the first place—to show us that God’s love for us is both so fierce about defeating evil and in that, asking for our full devotion, and also, so tender in desiring an intimate relationship with us?

Inserted in your bulletin is a copy of the cross I’m wearing today, so you can see it in detail. I received it from a Catholic priest when I was working through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. You can see an image of God, the Creator behind Jesus who is hanging on the cross (it’s an image of God as a man with a beard, but we know that God is not a male; Jesus just gave us in image of God as mother!).

If you look at the arm on the right—you can see that God is holding Jesus’s wrist—as if to hold him there, on the cross. This is the fierce love of God who is helping Jesus complete the work he has begun to defeat the power of death, release the power of violence, and overcome evil with love. God says, “I’m holding you to this, Jesus, you must finish this work, you must stand against evil, you must give all of yourself, I need you to do this, as painful as it is.”

I wonder how have you experienced freedom because the victory was won for you here, as Jesus was held on the cross? When you have experienced the fierce love of God fighting evil and conquering struggles, sin, addiction or loss on your behalf? Or perhaps you too, have experienced the fierce love of God holding you to account, to integrity, to the fulfillment of hard work? That also is a part of following Jesus.

If you look at the arm on the left, you can see that God’s hand is holding Jesus’ hand—holding him in his pain and suffering—being present with him—never leaving him—hiding him under the cover his wings. This is the tender love of God—holding Jesus in love as he suffers and hurts in completing the work he must do, so that he is never alone, abandoned nor betrayed. God says, “we are in this together, and I will never leave you nor forsake you, I am with you, and you are not alone.”

I wonder when have you experienced the tender love of God? The freeing release of forgiveness? Love renewed, relationships healed? A new start offered, a dark night of the soul survived, a trauma endured, an illness abated, a companion in the slow slog of grief? When have you experienced the tender love of God, a chance to snuggle into grace?

Throughout his ministry and on the cross, Jesus shows us a fierce and tender God—a God so fierce, there is no negotiation with Herod, there is no compromise with evil, and even when life is at its most painful, there is no bargaining for half your heart, like in the story of Paula D’Arcy. God is all in with us—in creation, in Christ, in his death and in his resurrection, and God’s fierce and tender love requires that those of us who choose a relationship with this God, must be “all in” as well.

Do you see what fierce and tender love God has for you? God will fight all manner of evil for you, and hold you in all suffering, and in that, God says, “give me your all.” I want you to want me more than you want anything else. I want to transform your pain. I want you to give your whole self to me.

That’s the voice of a fierce and tender God who saves us all through his own self-giving suffering on a cross, and who settles for nothing less than our whole heart.

When like Paula, we can open our hands and let go of the grip of our desires and give our whole selves to God—we can allow God to both hold us in place, where God wants us to serve on one hand, and hold us snuggled into grace and comfort on the other hand.

Joined to Christ through the cross, we are freed—freed to be fully who God calls us to be as God’s precious children. Joined to Christ through the cross, we are freed to participate in God’s fierce and tender work in the world. There is much to be done--both fierce work against evil and tender work with those who are suffering.

As followers of Jesus, God calls us to fight against the evil of this age with the fierce love of God that speaks against the Herods of this world that deal death for the sake of their own power. As a 96% white church, Lutherans must name and stand against the sin and evil of white supremacy and the hatred and murder it engenders, this week, especially against those in Muslim faith. It’s not enough to put a message on the sign outside, but each of us, can build relationships with people of different faiths and cultures in our own neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and if you don’t have that opportunity, then join the Richardson Interfaith Alliance and the many multi-faith events in our area. It is not enough not to come to church or sit in our living room and not hate other people. We trust in a God of relationship who calls us to be in the world building relationships with those of other faiths and cultures, showing up as a different kind of white Christian who fiercely love others.

After the announcement of the United Methodist Church at the beginning of this month, that LGBTQ people are not welcomed into the full life of the church, ordination and marriage, there are so many people who are hurting, feel unsafe, rejected again by church, by God, by Christians. Our LGBTQ sisters and brothers need the tender love of God expressed through Christians and other churches, giving them a chance to snuggle into grace; they need an explicit, public welcome to know if its safe to come to church, and an unequivocal message that they are created and precious children of God in the same way that all of us are, no exceptions. People I know and love are hurting. God wants to say to them, I want you to want me more than you want anything else. I want to transform your pain. I want you to give your whole self to me.

But how are they going to hear that message when they have been rejected over and over and over again, if we don’t tell them? If we don't let them know explicitly and publicly that we are here so they can hear God tell them this?

St. Luke’s, we need the same clarity of mission that Jesus had when he was told Herod was going to kill him; that it doesn’t matter what others do, think or say, we have a mission to do fulfill and we are going to do it no matter what. What difference does it make to Richardson that a Lutheran church is on this corner of Belt Line Road? Our mission is both fierce and tender—it is Law and Gospel—we need a fierce public stand for justice, to confront evil, defend the powerless, welcome the LGBTQ community, and live as an inclusive witness to the kingdom of God. And our mission is also one of tenderness—to hold people in their pain, to offer a place for people to snuggle into the grace of God in a loving community, to pray for others, seek healing, growth and deeper faith together, so that people know that they are not alone.

A fierce and tender ministry of the Gospel is possible when we open our hands and are "all in" with our whole heart—God holds us in this time and place for this fierce ministry and gives us the comfort of his presence and power so we can carry it out with tender love. I’m in—say, “amen” if you are, too.

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Temptation: Evil Laced with Good

Evil Laced with GoodIt’s “tempting” to reduce Jesus’ battle with devil in the wilderness and make it about our daily trials. Maybe if we just have a low-carb diet without too much bread, modify our greed and take buying an island off our bucket list, and avoid extreme sports with no bungee jumping off the Dallas Reunion Tower, we’re good. If we give up chocolate for Lent on top of it, we’re golden, we’re doing Lent extraordinaire. We’ve got this temptation-thing wrapped up, these temptations are going down!

Do we think that is really what this temptation story is rally about? Whether or not we are going to say yes or no to a chocolate sundae for desert tonight, keep drinking our usual Starbucks order every week, or continue overeating at Taco Tuesday through Lent?

The first task in approaching the story of Jesus’ temptation is separating Jesus’ experience of testing and temptation from our own daily trials. My difficulty in not eating an entire box of Girl Scout cookies in one sitting is not equivalent to Jesus resisting the devil’s invitation to turn a stone into bread. None of us would be able to begin to withstand the inquisition Jesus endured after forty days of fasting and solitary living in the wilderness. Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is Jesus’ temptation alone, not ours.

The difference lies in what kind of temptation the devil was really offering Jesus. Satan doesn’t tempt Jesus with whether he is the Son of God—Jesus had just been baptized when the Spirit descended upon him and God’s voice from heaven announced him as God’s beloved Son. But rather, the devil tempts Jesus about HOW he will live out that Spirit-anointed identity in the world. He gives Jesus some concrete, seemingly good alternative ways to be the Son of God in the world—and that’s what makes this temptation story so sinister. The most difficult kind of evil to turn away are those laced with good.

First, the devil tempts Jesus to use the power he has, to create his own plan. “If you turn this stone into bread for yourself, Jesus, just think how easy it will be to feed the masses of hungry people! You could listen to this abstract voice you heard at the Jordan River, or you could use your power and really do some good for tons of people, make a name for yourself, and satisfy your own hunger in the meantime—what’s so wrong with that, Jesus? Go your own way--Sometimes the only one you can trust is yourself.”

The devil tempts Jesus to be the Son of God in an ungodly way, even though it has potential good—it’s a way that does not trust God, God’s way, God’s plan. “One does not live by bread alone,” says Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3.

The second temptation offers another vision of God’s kingdom, laced with goodness. The devil says, “Let me save you some time, Jesus, I can give you all the kingdoms of the world today! Just think what you could do—stop Roman oppression, end the killing of innocents—we can work this out here and now! And you wouldn’t have to get your hands dirty. Just make me your idol, give me a knee, bow down, and I’ll fix you up.”

Again, the devil tempts Jesus to be the Son of God in an ungodly way—yes, good might come out of it, but it’s a way that does not trust God, God’s way, God’s plan. "It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’" says Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy 6:4.

The devil is especially tricky in the third temptation, because he uses Scripture—Psalm 91 which we chanted today—to proof-text his own purpose. “Put God’s promise to the test, Jesus! Take a dive off the temple and put on a good show! You’re God’s beloved child and his angels will save you! Just think how many people will follow you right off the bat if you just give them some drama, a big rescue, a bit of a show—hey, I’ll sing some ‘show tunes’—we’ll make a great team. Wouldn’t you like to skip the suffering and death that human life entails? It’s what Scripture says, after all!”

Scripture can be misused and abused to make something ungodly sound godly, even good. For the third time, the devil temps Jesus to make his position and power as God’s anointed Son about him and his glory and power, and what he can do, rather than about trust in and obedience to God. Jesus recognizes that the devil is also tempting God to act as rescuer, and he responds with Deuteronomy 6:16, "It is said, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' "

The devil tries desperately to influence HOW Jesus is going to live out his sacred identity, tempting him to break trust with God, take short cuts, to have self-sufficiency and power, and at the snap of his fingers, feed the masses, command kingdoms, take risks and be rescued. How tempting it must have been—not just for his own glory, but what he could have done for the people he came to help, for the good that might have resulted.

But for Jesus, the ends did not justify the means. Good apart from God’s plan is not ultimately good. How he lived out being the Son of God, had to flow out of Who he was as the Son of God. So, Jesus chose God’s path, God’s way, which was not one of command and control, but one of relationship and love.

Jesus ate with losers, liars, prostitutes, the sick, the lame, and the demon-possessed. Instead of snapping his fingers to make food from stones, he borrowed a boy’s lunch, gave thanks, trusted God, and fed 5,000. He took the bread and wine of the Passover meal and said, “this is my body, this is my blood,” and he still feeds us today.

Instead of commanding kingdoms at the devil’s feet, he gathered ordinary people like day laborers, and fishermen, business owners and women, tax collectors and zealots, and he taught them about God’s way of love and forgiveness, peace and healing through a relationship. And he sent them out 2 by 2, and they told two people and they told two people, and so on and so on, until 2,000 years later, there are 2.5 billion Christians worldwide.

Instead of expecting God to send angels to swoop in and rescue him from the human experience of suffering—Jesus endured it, taking all of the world’s sin and hatred onto himself—absorbing it, rather than returning it—so it would lose its power, and then he rose victorious to show that indeed, nothing, not even death nor the devil himself, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So, if this Lent, you want to follow this Jesus for 40 days of prayer, fasting, and resisting temptation, the first thing is to remember—it is the HOW that matters. Like Jesus, your identity is clear from the beginning: beloved Child of God, filled with Holy Spirit. The question is, how are you going to live your life as a Christian? How are you going to deal with your stress, your unhealthy habits, your relationship conflicts, your struggles for success and meaning and power, as a Christian, as a Jesus-follower, as someone who can never be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord?

The temptation is always for a quick fix, a short cut that feels good in the moment, doing things our way, by our own effort, self-sufficiency and will-power which can be laced with some good. But we follow Jesus who says, “one cannot live by bread alone, and "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him," and “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” We follow Jesus who trusts in God’s way, no matter what. Ask Jesus to help you put your trust in God to work through you and give you the strength, guidance, wisdom and peace you need!

Maybe you are trying to give up chocolate or Starbucks, reduce your carbon footprint, get rid of plastic, or you want to eat a healthy amount of food on Taco Tuesday, and those are fine things to do during Lent as long as they are not about your own willpower and what you can accomplish on your own (things that are laced with good in our culture) because that is decidedly not about your relationship with God.

But if instead we say, “God is the Lord of my life and I turn every aspect of it over to God, especially this Lent, my unhealthy use of resources or my unhealthy craving for (fill in the blank) ____________sweets, caffeine, alcohol, Girl Scout cookies, tacos, social media….. which I turn to when stressed instead of God; and I ask God to help me turn to Christ instead of my craving …” Now we’re getting somewhere. I would love to have that conversation with you this Lent.

HOW you give up something makes all the difference when it is not about your own willpower, but rather about surrendering to God.

You are a chosen, claimed, beloved child of God! Jesus has withstood the worst of what the devil has to offer, so that his Spirit is available to give you the best—all that you need in times of trial and temptation both big and small. God has a way forward for you in every wilderness you face and with every devil you face. Through Christ, we can surrender and trust in God’s way rather than our own. So trust Jesus to help you, for the devil is no match for him!

 

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God's Return Policy

Gods Return PolicyA sermon preached for Ash Wednesday on March 6, 2019 on Joel 2:12-17 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas 

If you’re like me you have items in a bag in the closet that have to be returned to the store.

Let’s see what’s in my bag—a Christmas gift that’s the wrong size, make-up that’s the wrong color (I have nearly finished the bottle of the right color and still haven’t gotten this returned), sheets my son doesn’t need, a jacket for my daughter, 2 sweaters for me that don’t fit…all this stuff and I only have 3 receipts!

You might have noticed, I have trouble returning things. Every store has a return policy—some are better than others—but you have to follow their rules.

Rule 1. You must have a receipt. You have to prove that the product came from that store and upon its return, that it belongs there—it’s their product and they are responsible for it.

Rule 2. Its not supposed to be used. You cannot wear the clothes and then return them; you cannot use the dishes, wash them and then bring them back. You cannot play with the toy and when you are tired of it, return it to the store. The difficulty is that it is hard to know if you really want something until you have tried it and then you realize it’s not what you had wanted or hoped or expected, but of course, then you can’t return it.

Rule 3. Stores often don’t want broken things. The Customer Service counters usually want you to prove that it was a problem with the product to begin with—that you didn’t misuse it or fail to follow the directions. If YOU broke it, if YOU’RE at fault, they may not take it back, you may not get your money back. Your return can’t be broken – or broken in. You can’t take one step outside in your New Balance shoes before discovering that the heel slips or your stuck with $130 heel-slipping shoes for two years because you were breaking them in inside and forgot and walked out to the mailbox.

Rule 4. Customer Service likes returns in their original packaging with the tags and stickers on there. Never mind a lot of toys and electronics are like getting into Fort Knox. When my children were small, I joked that we should put the people who wrap up Barbies and their furniture in charge of National Security – no one is getting through that plastic packaging. Also, you may not get your money back if you have lost your box, threw out the plastic, tossed the stuffing and Styrofoam, or wrecked the wrapper.

Finally, returning anything is just a hassle – there are long lines, forms, signatures, time limits – within 30 days, and often, you can do exchanges but not receive cash. So, now you understand why we avoid returning anything.

This week we began the season of Lent and Lent is a season of returns.

Perhaps we avoid returning to God as well—we are afraid of being judged by God for our sin, for not following all the rules, and we don’t want to feel bad, shameful or guilty. Or maybe we already do feel ashamed or guilty and we’re afraid we’ll feel more judged if we come to God.

But our Old Testament reading from Joel says reminds us, “Return to the Lord, you God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

Returning to God is not about judgment, but rather about love—It’s about trusting God’s love for us, even when we don’t get it right. Confessing our sin is not about judgment, but about experiencing God’s steadfast love and being liberated from our fears, guilt or shame so we can grow more and more into the image of Jesus.

If God coming to us in human form means anything, it certainly means that God “gets” our human experience. God will not be surprised by whatever we’re hanging onto that causes guilt. Lent is a call to move from sin to Love. So, during the season of Lent, God calls us to return, to return ourselves, our lives, and the hidden corners of our soul to God.

God calls us to return from those places and ways where we have wandered away. God calls us to return from the places in our life where we have been afraid to allow God in. Unlike the Customer Service counter at any retailer, God’s return policy doesn’t require a lot of receipts and rules.

With God’s return policy of grace and mercy, you don’t need a receipt to prove that you came from God—that you belong with God. God knows his own product-line. In steadfast love, God created your inmost being; God knit you together in your mother’s womb; you are fearfully and wonderfully made! God knows what God made. God knows you belong. God wants to take you back and is delighted at our return.

With God’s return policy of steadfast love, God expects us to be used—those are the returns God loves the most. God wants us to be used up and return empty. God imagines we will be worn out and rough around the edges, using our gifts and expending ourselves for good; hoping we have been out in the world living and loving and serving.

With God’s return policy of steadfast love, God expects we will return broken—that something in our lives is amiss, that there is pain, and grief and frustration –that we are broken and in need of healing. God’s not looking for who’s fault it is—if we didn’t read the manual or follow the directions or take care of ourselves how we were supposed to, or if we’ve lived by fear. God knows you were made “very good” at creation, and in love, takes us back broken, to fix us up and feed us and heal us again.

With God’s return policy of steadfast love, we don’t need to be in our original packaging with everything in its place. The packaging may be different now—we’re older, maybe we’ve grown taller or maybe we’ve shrunk a little. Maybe we have a few more wrinkles, maybe we are thinner or heavier, maybe we have a new hip, a pacemaker or lost a gall bladder. Perhaps we have lost some things along the way—innocence, childlike wonder, delight, or maybe a sense of joy. God can restore those again—God’s concern is that we return.

With God’s return policy of steadfast love, you don’t need a tag or sticker. Whether or not it is Ash Wednesday, God sees that smudge on your forehead—the sign of the cross that was traced in your baptism. You’ve already got Jesus’ name on your forehead and Jesus’ claim on your life, and Jesus’ Spirit dwelling inside you, and that’s all that really matters.

So, return to the Lord your God this Lent with all of who you are and don’t hold back any part of yourself or your life. Trust that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!

For with God’s return policy, there’s never a line, there’s no waiting for an available clerk, there are no forms to sign, there is no time limit, the counter is always open, and no one is turned away!

Simply show up and tell God you’ve returned. Ask God to accept you, to embrace you, to love you, to forgive you, to guide you, to help you live out of love.

Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!

That’s a return policy we all can buy into!

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